Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Atom: The Blockheads

Most folks would start a blog post on the recently concluded anime Atom: The Beginning by saying what previous experience they have with Osamu Tezuka's best known work Mighty Atom (Astro Boy). I will be brief: I have no experience with it at all (except for Naoki Urasawa's manga adaptation Pluto). Atom: The Beginning is not one of Tezuka's own works, instead it is a currently running manga written and illustrated by Tetsuro Kasahara, although yes it does have some contributions/guidance from both Masami Yuki and Osamu Tezuka's son, Makoto Tezuka. 

Given that this is a different kind of Astro Boy story, much like Pluto in that way, I think it's fine that I came to it with more or less no experience. These days it's rather common for every currently airing anime with a manga source material to have their source material snapped up and licensed but strangely enough Atom hasn't been licensed here, ie, I have no idea how faithful or not this adaptation is to its source. Atom also seemed to be a bit of an unpopular anime; I'm not sure how much of this is due to its own merits and how much of this relates to the fact that it was streaming behind a double-paywall on Amazon's Anime Strike service, but typically for franchises I'm not familiar with I'll rely on the knowledge of other fans to fill me in on historical context, funny cameos etc etc. (I mean, I REALLY don't have the time to google every character, every event, and then try several different spellings and trying to search in Japanese too since that's what it often takes!).

There is one way I can approach Atom with familiarity however and that lies in my enjoyment of kids anime. I've never been subtle about the fact that I really love some kids series like Precure and one reason why I love Precure is because it doesn't make its cast dumb. The characters start out as reasonably well-rounded, good people and all of them will go through small character arcs, often related to their friends and family, and become even more mature and confident in themselves because of it. 

The main duo of Atom however are absolute blockheads.

Even I could recognize the names/guises of UmatarĊ Tenma (insufferable, narcissistic robotics genius) and Hiroshi Ochanomizu (bumbling robotics genius) as Atom's creator/father (although I couldn't tell you who was who). It's bizarre, no other characters in this series match these two for buffoonery, even some of the side characters (who would normally be the ones to provide stupid gags) don't match these two for "the amount of absurdity we can cram into one plan." Although, maybe it's just because the male characters in this series seem to be more "comedic", in an odd twist the female secondary and tertiary characters (like Ochanomizu's budding robotics genius of a younger sister, Ran, and fellow robotics major who has a crush on Ochanomizu for some reason, Motoko) are the reasonable ones and it's not presented in a kill-joy sort of way.

I find it hard to enjoy shows where the characters seem to be going out of their way to be idiots. "Oh let's show off our amazingly advanced robot by having him make noodles at the school festival! No we didn't take into account that his high-powered specs make him completely unsuitable for this kind of event!" etc. I also feel that if it wasn't for the series' lovely opening sequence by Bahi JD the robo-wres arc that dominates the back-half of the show would have felt completely out of left field since it's only alluded to in the barest of words before that!

Strictly speaking I don't believe that these are problems that originated with the anime, I think a lot of my issues with the characterization (and possibly even the general page) probably orginated with the manga. I'd of course love a chance to flip through the manga and see if I'm right but at the same time, I disliked the leads enough (especially their treatment of A106 in the last episode, the most poignant material in the entire series and it's essentially thrown away) I'm not sure I'm really all that interested in seeing is this series ever "improves". It's a complete and total shame, a "prequel" to Astro Boy has so much potential and the last episode proved that someone, anime or manga writer I'm not sure, has the chops to really think about what it means to make a robot with brains and kindness. Too bad the story would rather focus on weird, cheap gags and ignore its own potential.